It’s surprising how a topic in one country can be considered casual din-din conversation while in another country, that same exact topic is completely inappropriate in almost any setting. Make’s an expat life easy peasy right? It’s not hard enough learning a new language, you also need to worry about being that person who drops a massive “faux pas” bomb while chowing down on some escargot and therefore doesn’t even realize their god awful mistake. Today’s article is dedicated to those poor souls. I’m diving into three sensitive topics in France and the USA that tend to go over well in one country, while being a real no go subject in another.
“Money, money, money, monnaaay! A general rule in France would be to just stay away from talking about anything to do with money. The French only tend to bring up money when it’s a badass deal and they wanna brag about their find. “I found this great farmers market and melons were 2 for 5 euros.” Or “don’t you love this skirt? I got it during the sales and it was 75% off!” Unless you got a slammin’ deal at your neighborhood Carrefour and you just can’t help but let the world know, stay away from money talk. And if you absolutely feel like you need to ask a Frenchie a money question, start with “if it’s not private, how much is your rent?” At least it gives them an easy out if they are totally offended.
In the states, we are way more open to any discussion that brings up money. This can range from discussing your salary, your yearly bonus, to your rent, your mortgage, how much you paid for your new car, the cost of daycare… you name it. Most money questions aren’t really considered sensitive questions. Now I wouldn’t go asking someone “How much money do you have in your bank account? Feel like lending me some Benjamin’s?” There clearly is a line when it comes to money questions in the USA too, but don’t be surprised if someone drops their salary over dinner while discussing inflation to make a point. It’s more of an open book.
God and/or religion aren’t topics that you’ll need to discuss very often in France, so don’t worry about whipping out that vocabulary if you don’t already have it. Historically when the French chopped the heads off of their royal family during the French Revolution, they had to say goodbye to the Catholic church too. The King was divine and chosen by God, making him technically the head of the Catholic church. Complicated, right? So without going into a huge history lesson, the French couldn’t say bye to the King without saying sayonaro to the church. So they chose to have a clean break between church and the state. Meaning that while everyone is free to practice the religion they wish in France, the government is forbidden to be involved in or influence religious affairs. Consequently today, only 37% of the French population practices some form of religion, which may explain why God and religion remain a pretty personal subject in France.
On the opposite side of the pond, you’ve got the USA. The first amendment of the Constitution also forbids the American government from having any authority in religious affairs and guarantees the free exercise of religion to all it’s citizen. Pretty similar to the Frenchies. BUT, the lines are a little bit more foggy in the US because over 77% of Americans practice a religion. This makes the American population as a whole, a lot more comfortable talking about God. I mean, the official motto of the USA is “In God we trust.” Politicians frequently discuss their religion when campaigning and how that influences their views on society. No US president has ever openly identified as an atheist, and I hope you haven’t forgotten all those mornings of the pledge of allegiance? It’s “One Nation, Under God…”
Just goes to show that while both countries have a separate church and state, the lines are blurry enough in the US that no one generally bats an eye at a religious discussion.
Politics in France is about as casual as discussing what the weather is going to be like next week, so brush up on your general knowledge peeps! Last night my French father in law invited over some friends for dinner. Two of the couples had gone to the New Years speeches of the right wing mayor earlier that day and another couple had gone to the New Year speeches for the left wing candidate who was running for election in March. We literally spent the ENTIRE first hour and a half of the dinner talking about each candidates different view points, discussing why they were campaigning and who they thought would win the upcoming elections. Most of these Frenchies didn’t agree with each other and weren’t voting for the same party. But they still managed to have a healthy, calm discussion about their views before eventually moving onto another subject. #wow
In the US, we of course have friends and family who vote politically different from us. Especially in today’s world where we have very divided population about President Trump, you can easily find yourself across the dinner table from someone who doesn’t share your same views. BUT the difference is in the US is, we just tend not to talk about it. It’s kind of a no go subject. Mainly because American’s don’t tend to stay as calm as our French friends. Political discussions quickly become heated, passionate and then aggressive and eventually offensive. Which probably explains why the phrase “politically correct” is so overused in the US. We’re hyper aware of potentially offending someone with our views so we just tend not to share them. There just isn’t a lot of room for political debates at Thanksgiving dinner!
Oh la la. Nude beaches anyone? Is it a surprise that the French welcome more naked holiday makers than any other country? The French culture is all about sensuality and learning to enjoy. Inhibition is a big no no. So whether we’re talking about food, media or even nudity and sex, the French have a pretty blasé relationship with it. What can sometimes come off as indifferent or just casual, is really the French’s uber comfortable relationship with sexuality as a whole.
The Americans on the other hand, are pretty prude for a westernized culture. Due to our strong Puritan roots that strictly forbids nudity and over sexualization, Americans haven’t made as much progress as you would think in public. We may be super comfortable with immense amounts of violence and guns galore, but show a nipple at the Super Bowl tapping and the entire country wants to rip their eyes out. I have to admit that I think the French have the better deal for this one.
I’d love to hear any faux pas comments or sensitive subjects you’ve encountered traveling or living in another country! Don’t hesitate to share in the comments below! ♥